Thursday, April 14, 2011

MSC and the mackerel certification dilemma

The Marine Stewardship Council is facing a bit of a dilemma over its sustainability certification of NE Atlantic mackerel fisheries. 

MSC announced April 13 2011 that the independent adjudicator (retained under salary by MSC to hear objections) had decided to uphold an objection to the certification of the Faroese Pelagic Organisation North East Atlantic mackerel fishery to the MSC standard. 

The objection was lodged by Marine Scotland (government agency) against the assessment completed by the consulting company Det Norske Veritas.  The objection was that the Faroese fishery was not abiding by the management framework rules that were in place.

From 2000-2009 the Faroese were part of an international trilateral mackerel agreement with the EU and Norway which respected the scientific advice on sustainable catch levels provided by the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES). 

Recent changes in the distribution of mackerel in the NE Atlantic has made the stock more available and hence more attractive to Faroese and Icelandic fisheries and these two countries have unilaterally increased their catch levels outside ICES advice and the management framework. 

Unless the EU or Norway reduces their own catch, which they are unlikely to do, the total catch in 2011 will exceed ICES recommended sustainable levels and will put the resource at risk.   

Iceland does not seem to care because it is not certified by MSC nor is it applying for certification.  But what of the other mackerel fisheries?  There are 8 separate fisheries already certified by MSC and a 9th in the assessment process. reported on 13 April that MSC has stated that the decision should have no effect on already MSC certified mackerel fisheries which all fall within Norwegian or EU jurisdiction.

This contradicts an earlier MSC news release of July 16 2010 that “Unless the situation is resolved by the end of 2011, the unilateral quotas and increases in fishing activity will result in suspension of MSC certification of fisheries committed to harvesting the stock sustainably.”

So which is it?  Will all the mackerel fisheries be punished by MSC because two fisheries are being bad?

On the face of it, they should.  ICES considers the NE Atlantic Mackerel fishery to be one stock, albeit composed of three spawning components.  ICES estimates that fishing mortality has exceeded Fmsy (the fishing mortality that gives maximum sustainable yield) since the early 1990s, so technically NE Atlantic Mackerel already has overfishing taking place.  However, the biomass is relatively healthy, above MSY Btrigger, a biomass reference point that triggers a cautious response when stocks fall too far below Bmsy (the biomass associated with maximum sustainable yield). 

ICES estimates that catch in 2010 was 930kt and that this would have to be lowered to below 672kt in 2011 to be consistent with management objectives under the MSY approach.  This is unlikely to happen with Faroese and Icelandic fisheries not abiding by the rules. 

So now the dilemma: can the existing certified fisheries, who are abiding by the rules, still be considered sustainable if two non-certified fisheries are breaking the rules such that the sum of all the fisheries on NE Atlantic mackerel results in overfishing and stock depletion?

MSC is waffling on this issue. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Turtles and sustainable swordfish

The Marine Stewardship Council deadline for stakeholder comments on the draft sustainability assessment report for the Canadian swordfish longline fishery is just days away. 

Although there are inadequacies in the scientific assessment of the swordfish stock and the management of the fishery by both ICCAT and Canada, swordfish are considered to be at or above the biomass that gives maximum sustainable yield and fishing mortality is below the level that achieves maximum sustainable yield.  In US fishery parlance, the stock is not overfished and neither is overfishing taking place.  On the face of it the primary requirements for consideration as a sustainable fishery under international best practices are met.

The big issue is bycatch of other species such as turtles and sharks. 

Concern is greatest for the loggerhead sea turtle.  Estimated bycatch in the Canadian pelagic longline fishery is about 1,200 turtles annually out of a population of 17,000.  This species was determined by COSEWIC to be endangered in Canada in April 2010 because it is “declining globally and there are well documented, ongoing declines in the Northwest Atlantic population from which juveniles routinely enter and forage in Atlantic Canadian waters. The Canadian population is threatened directly by commercial fishing, particularly bycatch in the pelagic longline fleet, and by loss and degradation of nesting beaches in the southeastern USA and the Caribbean.”

A decision by the Canadian Government on whether or not to list loggerheads under the Species at Risk Act has yet to be made.  In its initial response on December 2010, Government stated that “A voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Sea Turtle Handling and Mitigative Measures has been developed by the Canadian swordfish and tuna pelagic longline fleet.  This Code of Conduct includes measures such as avoiding areas of high sea turtle capture rates, gear hauling protocols to minimise harm to turtles, sea turtle handling guidelines, and usage instructions for de-hooking gear.

A Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans recovery potential assessment published in 2010 found that “Reduction or elimination of mortality in Canadian waters alone is highly unlikely to be sufficient to achieve recovery.” 

Although not the sole culprit, and despite efforts being made in Canada to reduce bycatch and increase survival of released loggerheads, the Canadian longline swordfish fishery is contributing significantly to the potential extinction of loggerheads.

The Canadian harpoon fishery for swordfish has zero bycatch mortality and provides a certified sustainable alternative source for consumers to consider.